Cope, Charles West

Cope, Charles West. RA. (1811 – 1890)

Displayed on our website as current or past stock – ‘Milton’s Dream’ – etching
The following details are first of all centered on Cope’s professional life, but then include some more anecdotal references by him to the Etching Club.

Charles West Cope was born in Leeds, Yorkshire in 1811. He became a Royal Academy student in 1828 and was a winner of a Royal Academy Schools silver medal in 1831. He travelled, visiting Italy 1833 – 1835, and America and Canada in 1876.
In 1843 there was a competition to commission artists to create the new decorations at the Palace of Westminster. Cope won one of the three first prizes, and subsequently painted several frescoes there. He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1843, a full Academician in 1848, and Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy 1866 – 1875. His subject matter was largely from literary, historical, genre and biblical sources. He died in 1890.

Re. The Etching Club.  Cope was a founder member of the Etching Club. By that time print making had become a matter that largely consisted in the exact reproductions for commercial use of old master paintings. So a dearth of original work in that medium. The founder members of the Etching Club set out to remedy this situation. For instance for a period of time they chose poems to illustrate in their own fashion and according to their own imaginations; ( the relevant picture shown on our website is such a work – ‘Milton’s Dream’ Cope’s etching from a sonnet by Milton).

It was very much a social as well as a professional organisation. The original members that Cope cites are Townsend, Fearnley, Richard Redgrave, S. Tollhouse, and Charles Lewis. Later membership included Millais, Holman Hunt, and Samuel Palmer.
The following anecdotal recordings By Charles Cope himself are warmly informative.

“During the time I resided in Russell Place, the Etching Club, which became so well known afterwards, was founded. It was at first only a small society. We met at each other’s rooms in turn, once a month, and experimented in etching for an hour or two, and then had a simple supper, limited to bread and cheese. This arrangement soon broke down, for it was found that we had not conveniences, such as proper tables and lights, and we were apt to spill the acid and spoil table-covers etc.
……Subsequently we etched at home, and brought impressions of our plates to the meetings, where they were freely criticised.
……After a time we made a selection from the etchings and published them privately in numbers; and later we took up poems to illustrate.
……Our profits were never very great, although I have received as much as 60 for one etching. The great attraction consisted in the pleasant meetings, where brotherly kindness abounded, and where pleasure was ballasted by a little business and occasional cheques. At one time the club dined at the King’s Arms, Kensington, but latterly they dined at each other’s houses, and business was done afterwards.
……In time nearly all in the Etching Club became members of the Royal Academy and their evening meals afford a fair test of their growing prosperity; from the modest supper of bread and cheese in lodgings to the comfortable additions of cold meats, these developing into dinners at an inn, and , lastly, to sumptuous repasts in good private houses, and even palaces, waited on by flunkies.
……Of course, this little account of the etching club relates to a good many years, so that from very young men we got to be decidedly old, but yet with some friskiness left in us.” 
(From Reminiscences of Charles West Cope RA. by his son Charles Henry Cope MA. Richard Bentley & Son 1891).

It could also be mentioned that Cope from his memoirs can be seen to have notably pursued another ‘art’, again with great enthusiasm and skill, that of angling.